Directed by Neil Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster & Sharlto Copley
Neil Blomkamp’s batshit-crazy debut District 9 had sci-fi junkies rabidly craving more. His follow-up Elysium takes his brutal and blackly comic brand of filmmaking to a whole new level with a generous budget and an A-list line-up.
It’s an arbitrary date in the future, let’s say 2154, and planet Earth has become a polluted, overpopulated and poverty-stricken wasteland. All of Earth’s wealthy inhabitants have bailed and emigrated to a pristine Space Station called Elysium where illness and unemployment cease to exist. It’s every Earth-dwellers dream to travel to Elysium, especially our hero Max (Damon) who has five days to live thanks to a fatal dose of radiation following an accident at work. With death waiting eagerly on his doorstep Max decides that the only option is to suit up into a robotic exo-skeleton, grab some futuristic guns and take on the snobs once and for all. By doing this he will not only save himself, but the entire population of his devastated planet.
There are a handful of qualities that the film shares with District 9, most notably the grungy aesthetic, the hi-tech weaponry and a starring role from Copley as the psychopathic sleeper agent Kruger. But what is noticeably absent is District 9’s thoughtful approach to storytelling. Whereas Blomkamp’s first film showed an awful lot of stuff blowing up, it also managed to be an interesting allegory for apartheid. With Elysium the political element merely feels like an excuse for Blomkamp’s characters to play with mean gadgets and cause some blood-rinsed carnage.
There’s a reason why Damon so often bags leading-man roles. He possesses a winning package of charisma, emotion and brawn which makes him the ideal candidate for these types of film. But the more Elysium’s running time ticks away the more distant we feel from him, which is odd considering the life-threatening situation he is placed in. This issue may be due to the fact that Copley makes for a more fascinating and unnerving screen presence making his scenes burst with humour and menace. It also really doesn’t help that Foster doesn’t appear to believe a single word that exits her mouth. Her accent is an anomaly, her character’s motivations feel trite and her delivery as a cold-hearted bitch ends up feeling televisual and hammy.
There are clusters of greatness floating around the film, but overall it never manages to form the satisfying and memorable mass that you hope it might. It would appear that Blomkamp is more a master of concept than one of narrative. His screenplay relies too heavily on flashbacks that often feel expositional and emotionally manipulative. There’s an awful lot of techno-babble thrown at us throughout, but if you really deconstruct the central narrative it’s terribly formulaic and predictable. But if you stop-stroking your chin for a minute you realise that Elysium is a perfectly serviceable actioner that uses an intriguing premise to deliver a high-octane spectacle. It eats up time as quickly as its audience will consume popcorn, but unlike District 9 it won’t linger with you after the credits have rolled.
Let’s hope that Blomkamp ups the ante with his next project, because although he’s clearly a red hot talent, this outing leaves you feeling luke-warm.